Our Masterpieces...Err, Our Novels

Friday, January 29, 2010

Contest Alert: Page to Fame!

Workout Song of the Day: "Percussion Gun" by White Rabbits

I've been naughty. I've set up a schedule to post something on my blog every weekday, but--whaddayaknow--life kind of got in the way. Yet, to make it up to my devoted followers, I just got word of a new writing contest.

The friggin' awesome Mike Chen just sent me an email about Webook.com's PageToFame contest! Here's how it works:

Round 1: Submit your 1st page and synopsis. If enough readers like you, you go on to...
Round 2: Submit your 1st chapter. If enough readers like you, you go on to...
Round 3: Submit your 1st 50 pages. If enough readers like you, you go on to...
Round 4: Submit your WHOLE manuscript.

Did I mention that throughout this process, your work will be reviewed by literary agents? Talk about getting your foot in the door. But even if you don't win the contest, at least you can get some strong feedback and what works and doesn't work in your manuscript. Beginnings are difficult to nail--this could be a learning process for us all.

I'm in--are you?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

My Fave Book Covers

Workout Song of the Day: "Telephone" by Lady GaGa ftg. Beyonce

Today, YA Highway asks: what are your favorite book covers? To which I answer...gah!

Initially, I was at a lost for words. As a school counselor, I always tell my students: "don't judge a book by its cover"--but hopefully I'm not as lame and cliched as that statement. And hopefully, if I am, my students just mumble it behind my back. But I digress...my point is, I never really thought I cared about the book covers--only the actual story. However, I've noticed that I have snubbed plenty of novels if they looked too "Harlequinny." I totally made that word up, but now I'm totally in love with it. But, without further ado, here are some of my favorite covers that made me snatch the books right off the shelves even though I hardly had any money in my pocket:

Okay, this one is a total cop-out because it's not the "official" cover--but it has Leo on it. And my heart will go on for Leo.

From one of my favorite authors, this cover is so subtle but speaks volumes. It clearly displays a sense of unity that students may feel after suffering a tragedy together.

The book that started all the pandemonium. I still have no idea what the hell this has to do with the novel, but wasn't it cool when the movie randomly made a reference to it?

This just looks like something that should be in an art gallery. It definitely made me pause and read the book flap.

An oldie but goodie. If this cover could make some of the knuckleheaded guys in my high school want to know what the book was about, then mission accomplished.

I just raved about this book in my last post (which was forever ago), but I don't mind giving it extra props The girl in the cover looks both "beautiful" and haunted at the same time, which is how many of my middle school girls appear. Job well done to the cover artist.

I literally almost interrupted testing when I saw this on the student's desk. I've heard so many good things about Scott Westerfeld as an author, but this series just may be added to my reading list for the covers alone.
I have a ton more that I could add, but laziness plus crappy Internet connection is a deadly combo. Any of your faves up here?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review: Beautiful by Amy Reed

Workout Song of the Day: "She Loves Everybody" by Chester French

When Cassie moves from the tiny town where she has always lived to a suburb of Seattle, she is determined to leave her boring, good-girl existence behind. This is Cassie’s chance to stop being invisible and become the kind of girl who’s worth noticing.

Stepping into her new identity turns out to be easier than Cassie could have ever imagined...one moment, one choice, changes everything.

Cassie’s new existence both thrills and terrifies her. Swept into a world of illicit parties and social landmines, she sheds her virginity, embraces the numbness she feels from the drugs, and floats through it all, knowing that she is now called beautiful. She ignores the dangers of her fast-paced life…but she can’t sidestep the secrets and the cruelty.

Cassie is trapped in a swift downward spiral tinged with violence and abuse, and no one—not even the one person she thought she could trust—can help her now.

If I said that this book is haunting, it would be a complete understatement. I can understand why some adults may be appalled by the content of this novel, but I have worked as a middle school counselor for about 4 years. Questions about drug, sex, and many other taboo topics that I didn't think about at their age ARE the center of attention for many middle- and high-schoolers today. Cassie came from a small town where she was overweight, didn't have any friends, and was pretty much invisible. She decides that she will try anything to fit in and not fall into the same cycle at her new school. I see many middle school girls trying to recreate a new identity to be accepted, and if the parents are not involved, the results are usually heartbreaking.

I could not put this book down. While I was frustrated at first at how easily Cassie seemed to fall in with the "it" crowd, I eventually realized that her actions were authentic. Preteens and teens don't really think about the consequences of their actions--in fact, their brains are not equipped yet to weigh morality. So even though I found myself pissed at Cassie's choices, I also couldn't help empathizing with her. What young girl doesn't want the cutest guy in school to like her?

The only qualm that I had with this novel was how "rushed" the ending seemed to me, but I'm willing to push that aside because the story as a whole was so. Damn. Good.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 Cookies

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Fave Unknown Book...Or Why I Need to Hang Out with More Readers

Workout Song of the Day: "Move on Me" by Fantasia (this is released yet--I heard her sing a few lyrics of this on her reality show, and now I can't stop moving my shoulders!!)

Alright, it's time for our weekly Road Trip Wednesday question from my peeps over at YA Highway. This week they demand to know: what book do you love that no one else has ever heard of? My response: Um.......?

Let me explain the three main reasons why I'm drawing a blank. First, I just rekindled my love affair with reading this past year, and most of the titles I've read were recommended by others. Second, my family aren't necessarily "avid" readers--which is to say they consider fine reading to be picking up an Essence or US Weekly magazine (I still love you though!)--therefore, they haven't read many of the novels I've read anyway. And third, the last few books I've read have been strictly YA--and most of the students in my MFA program pretty much scoff at YA, and haven't heard of any of the titles.

As you can see, I have a plethora of choices to choose from, but I'm not sure if any of them would really count. So, as I close my eyes and blindly choose a novel, I'm going to have to go with...drum roll please...Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell.

Here's a brief review from Publishers Weekly:

Making a hit man turned medical intern a sympathetic figure would be a tall order for most authors, but first-time novelist Bazell makes it look easy in this breezy and darkly comic suspense novel. The Locanos, a mob family, take in 14-year-old Pietro Brwna (pronounced Browna) after a couple of thugs gun down the grandparents who raised him in their New Jersey home. Bent on revenge, Pietro pursues the killers and executes them a year later. Impressed by Pietros performance, David Locano recruits Pietro as a hit man. After more traumas, Pietro tries to make a break from his past by entering the witness protection program. Now known as Peter Brown, he eventually lands a position as a doctor at a decrepit Manhattan hospital, where by chance a former Mafia associate turns up as a patient and threatens to rat him out. The hero's wry narrative voice, coupled with Bazells artful use of flashbacks to sustain tension and fill in Pietro's past, are a winning combination. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I know that I've mentioned this novel before here, and it's rare when anything stays with me that long (I don't even remember what Brothers and Sisters was about, and I just saw that last night!), but this book is, simply put, DA BOMB!

I read it because I heard that Leo DiCaprio may be starring in a movie based on it, and I always read the novels of any movie he's sniffing around. But this one was actually good. Hella good, to be exact. While the main character is pretty dark (I mean, he IS a hit man), I also found him to be extremely relatable (is this a word? My blogger spellcheck tells me it isn't. Say it ain't so!). He had to make tough decisions in life, and he also had to deal with a lot of heartache. In fact--dare I say it--I found this to be one of the most romantic books I ever read, and his love life was just a minor subplot. I enjoyed how his relationship seemed authentic, and it was one of the first times that I wanted a couple to live happily ever after. As a whole, the dialogue was crisp, the action never ended, and I was left hanging, wanting more--which isn't always a good thing, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel.

I actually found this book at the bargain bin in Barnes and Noble, and I'm completely appalled! Something this good needs to be on the bestsellers list! I hope you guys will check it out. Maybe I'll even get my mom to put down her magazine for this. :)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Workout Song of the Day: "Take Me Home" by After Midnight Project

Okay, here's an excerpt from Chapter 2 of Wants. One of the main characters, Gavin, is leaving a pep rally after staring in awe at a pretty blonde on the flag squad. He has a minor confrontation in the gym with a classmate, and this confrontation is now continued in the parking lot:

The sun nearly blinded him even though it was blanketed by a thin layer of clouds. Rain probably. He could only hope. As he zigzagged his way through the crowd of rambunctious teens, he flipped open his book and continued to read. He always knew the way to his car—even in parking garages. And it’s not like he wanted to socialize with any of these schmucks and filter through empty invitations to the latest party. He tolerated them throughout the week. The weekend was his time.
A burly hand scraped his nose and landed in the center of his page. His book made a heavy thud against the pavement. Gavin looked up and saw Curly wink at him. Corn Row was right next to him, cackling like a trusty sidekick. They were also joined by one of the fat bastards from the football team. The right side of his face was lifted into a grin as if he had a stroke.
“Whoops,” Curly said, and Corn Row howled in laughter. Curly lifted his arm and wrapped it around the blonde’s neck. Wait—the blonde? Gavin’s eyes shifted to her but she didn’t give him a second glance. Her gaze stayed on his frayed novel, its guts splayed out for the entire world to see. “Sorry about that man. My bad.” Curly stepped on the spine of the book as he led his crew towards the parking lot. The blonde moved a bit slower than the others, so Curly had to practically drag her.
Gavin cleared his throat. “Pick it up.” He cleared his throat again to reassure that those words just came from his mouth.
Curly and his crew turned to face Gavin. “What did you just say?”
Gavin glanced at the blonde. She bit her lip and stared back at him. Her eyes roving over what seemed like every inch of his body. Gavin sucked in his breath. “I said pick it up.”
Curly chuckled, but it sounded force. He needed a laugh track now that his friends were muted. They just stared at Gavin in disbelief. Curly removed his arm from the blonde, and took a step towards Gavin. “Care to run that by me again?”
Gavin did not take his eyes off the blonde, whose eyebrows were raised at him in pure amusement. “What are you, a ‘tard?” Gavin asked. Corn Row’s mouth pursed into a perfect O. He may have bellowed, but all Gavin could hear was his heart throbbing in his ears. Curly seemed to come at him in slow motion, his fingers so tightly wound in fists that his knuckles grew pale. Gavin sucked the inside of his cheek, calculating his next move. Nobody wanted to pummel him since he spit in Joey Hanson’s Jell-O pudding cup in the third grade, and he was lucky enough to have a teacher interfere before too much damage was done. But Curly was even more pissed, and big as hell. He could probably take out Gavin with one blow to his face. Shit, his face. Gavin raised his arms over his eyes and ducked. He bit down on his cheek to tourniquet the imminent pain.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Agent Wish List: Mary Kole

Workout Song of the Day: "Put it in a Love Song" by Alicia Keys ftg. Beyonce

So, I've been quite naughty about my blog (still playing catch up after being out of the country for almost two weeks!). But, to make it up to you, I've chosen the superbad Mary Kole from the superbad Andrea Brown Literary Agency to profile (don't worry--superbad means awesome).
Why I Heart Her: She says she's looking for a YA book about drugs, sex, and rock n' roll--which is pretty much the outline for my novel, Wants.
Why You'll Heart Her: She runs one of the most comprehensive, informative, and entertaining blogs on children's literature, Kidlit.com. She gives you an agent's eye on everything from query letters to publishing trends to revisions. Basically, she's the go-to gal for becoming a successful YA/MG author.
Who She Represents: A list of Andrea Brown Literary Agency's clients can be found here. Clients include Jay Asher (author of Thirteen Reasons Why), Sarah Cross (author of YA hit, Dull Boy), and the queen of edgy YA, Ellen Hopkins.
What She's Looking For: Besides the trifecta of edgy YA (drugs, sex, and rock n' roll, of course), she's also seeking a MG mystery, a dystopian YA, and picture books with "a great, outside-the-box friendship hook."
Notable Net Nuggets: Here are links to some of her interviews and other important info:
The Spectacle interview
NaNoWriMo intervew
And, of course, Kidlit.com...hurry over, she has a new contest up and running!
How to Submit to Her: She only accepts queries through email at mary@andreabrownlit.com. Please click here for submission guidelines.
Whew--lots of work! Good luck with your queries!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

No Teaser Tuesday...But I Do Know About a Contest!

Workout Song of the Day: Ahh, who cares...

If you can't tell by my lack of creativity for choosing today's song, I am WIPED! I just came back from my short-term study abroad in England, and I have to say that I never want to step foot in an airport again! But on the bright side, my misadventures may be good fodder for a story--or at least a pretty impressive blog post. With that said, I'm not posting my own Teaser Tuesday today.

However, my peeps over at YA Highway are offering a pretty cool first line contest right now. Email them the first line of your WIP, and you could have a chance to win a first page critique as well as some novels. Swing on by to take a crack at it. I've already submitted...now I need to catch up on my sleep.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Agent Wish List: Paige Wheeler

Workout Song of the Day: "Toxic" by Britney Spears

Tag, you're it, Paige Wheeler! Ms. Wheeler is a founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC--a full service agency that helps to mold the next authors on the bestsellers lists!
Why I Heart Her: She's the first agent that I ever spoke to face-to-face at a conference, and she helped me realized that agents are not as intimidating as some may think. She was warm, open, and let me ask "stupid" questions. Not to mention, it was her that encouraged me to create this blog, since she believes that having a platform can garner more readership for aspiring authors.
Why You'll Heart Her: Did I mention that she's a founder of a full service literary agency? This means that not only could she garner you a publishing deal, but she'll help you shape your whole career, as well. She'll help with marketing both your books AND yourself.
Who She Represents: Anna Campbell, Sheila Roberts, Julianne MacLean, and C.E. Lawrence among many others.
What She's Looking For: In fiction, commercial and "book club" fiction; women's fiction; romance; mysteries, thrillers, and suspense. In nonfiction, both narrative and prescription--or anything that would be "a good fit for the Today show."
Notable Net Nuggets: Here are links to some of her interviews and other info:
Examiner Spotlight
How to Submit to Her: Please note--she'll only accept email queries and submissions! Send the query, synopsis, and the first 5 pages of your manuscript to her at paige@foliolit.com. Make sure to include "query" in your subject line--and expect a response in 6-8 weeks!
So, now that I've done all the dirty work for you, get a move on!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fitness Friday: The iPod is Your Friend!

Workout Song of the Day: "Go Low" by Ludacris (I'm actually not too fond of this song, but I hear it all the time now!)

So, I'm posting my Fitness Friday a TAD late because I spent all of my Friday touring London by foot (which will actually be the topic of next week's Fitness Friday--with pictures!). I think since I try to include a workout song for each post, my first topic for this series is only fitting.

They say the best way to burn calories and lose weight is to actually include high impact intervals in your routine. In other words, spend a few minutes doing everything really hard and really fast, and then return to moderate exercising. I got this idea from a co-worker: when you're going out for a walk/jog/run, create a playlist. But here's the catch--start with about 3 low-tempo songs back to back, and then have one really fast-tempo song thrown in. During the low-tempo song, you walk/jog at a comfortable pace, and then when the fast tempo song plays, you give it all that you got. For the next round, you should have 2 low-tempo songs, and then 2 fast-tempo songs. Keep this routine going until you're doing longer high impact exercises than the low impact ones. Granted, you may need to get something done with your hair once you've finish this routine (and my "sistas" know what I'm talking about), but the pay-off will be so worth it.

So, what are you waiting for? Strap on some cross-trainers, put in your earphones, and hit the road! :)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Workout Song of the Day: "I'm Goin' In" by Drake ftg. Lil Wayne

Teen suicide is, unfortunately, something that every high school student will have to deal with, both directly and indirectly. But imagine having a student at your school that left you audio confessions as to why she killed and herself--and that you were part of that reason! This is what Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why covers, and ultimately does a fine job in analyzing the pain that teenagers have to deal with on a daily basis.

There are two main characters in this novel--Hannah Baker, the beautiful, but misjudged, girl who kills herself, and Clay Jensen, the smart kid with a crush on Hannah, but who also is one of the recipients of her confessions. Everyone who has received Hannah's tapes had something to do with her death, and Clay becomes tormented with both hearing about Hannah's turmoil, but also having to relive her death all over again.

There were many things that I liked about this novel. First of all, the concept amazes me to no end. Teen suicide is a topic that is frequently covered in novels, but I definitely think that Asher puts a new spin on it. He actually got the inspiration for this novel from an audiotaped museum tour--I need to keep my eyes open for more good ideas! Second of all, I also feel that Asher gives a terrific voice to Hannah. I was speaking to one of my MFA professors about author's writing in the voice of the opposite sex, and he admitted that most male authors do a terrible job in creating female protagonists; however, Asher clearly demonstrates the angst that young females go through when they are considered something they are not by their peers. Finally, I think this novel enables an honest discussion about teen suicide. Asher speaks about the warning signs, risks, and preventative measures all without being too "preachy". I've even recommended this novel to a few of my students.
I only had two main concerns about this novel. First, while Asher did do a great job in giving Hannah a voice, I did felt that her confessions were a bit too neat. This is a teenaged girl pouring her heart out and telling others why she's about to kill herself, but the sentences were too concise and beautiful. I felt as if she were reading her reasons to us as opposed to actually just speaking to us. My other concern was that I felt that I didn't get to know Clay as much as I wanted to. I know that he was a vehicle for Hannah's story, but I also wanted to care more about my "tour guide." And some of his reactions to portions of Hannah's confessions actually confused me; I thought that some of them were a bit over the top, but I ultimately understood how much he cared about this girl--I know that many of you may disagree about this criticism, though. :)
Ultimately, I found Thirteen Reasons Why to be a heartfelt, and addictive, read.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 Cookies

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Back in the Day

Workout Song of the Day: "Back in the Day" by Ahmad Lewis (clever, huh?)

All right, YA Highway has hit us with another awesome question: what did you actually write about as a young adult? I'm pretty embarrassed to answer this question because my writing sucked as a teen. Seriously. I keep backpacks in my closet filled with notebooks of ill-advised stories. And when I say ill-advised, I mean horrendous. I'm considering erasing all traces of these documents before they're discovered after my death. Not the legacy I'm looking to leave behind.

A little back story first. I consider two of my cousins (check out Marquita's blog) to be my sisters, and--as the nerds we were/are--we would spend our summer vacations locked in a room...writing. That's it. No sneaking out to parties, no sneaking boys in to kiss. Just writing. We'd start off by each writing front and back of a notebook paper, read our page aloud, and then start again on the next sheet. When we started to realize that this didn't give us enough time to actually develop our stories, we'd wait to read aloud when we wrote a whole chapter. Now that I think of it, these were actually my first critique groups!

So, now on to why these stories were so bad. I went to a pretty "urban" school, and since I'm black, I always thought that I HAD to write about all black characters. Many of the black students in my school behaved in an almost comical way--and I'd take these antics and write about them in my story with the intentions of making my cousins laugh. So there was a lot of eye rolling, neck-swiveling, free-styling, and "yo mama" jokes sprinkled all throughout my stories--but there were never actually any plots. I threw in lines and inside jokes that I knew would get a laugh, but I never really had fun writing about them. I knew I wanted to write something else, but I never knew if I was talented enough to do so.

What I will say now is this--I needed these all night writing sessions with my cousins to find my "calling"--I know that I want to write as a living, and I would have never known this to be a passion if it wasn't for my practice sessions. I've grown as a writer--I write about a variety of cultures, and when I do represent black characters, I'm able to make them more well-rounded.

Thankfully, I'm out of the country--so I don't have access to post any of my early works. Who knows--maybe I'll get the nerve to share another time. :)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Teaser Tuesday!

Workout Song of the Day: The theme to "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (my MFA crew would get this joke)

Okay, here's my first stab at Teaser Tuesday. I'm posting a small portion of my novel that will actually be workshopped tomorrow (hmm, no wonder why my stomach hurts). It's nothing too revealing, but I hope you all enjoy. Please feel free to let me know what you think:

“Can I help you?” The blonde inquired in an uncooperative tone. She gave Alicia another once-over before dragging her hand through her hair. Her robe lifted a little as she did so, revealing two lithe but muscular thighs. And that’s when Alicia erased all doubts that they were on the same playing field. There was no denying that the blonde was beautiful—it radiated through her skin in just a simple action.
Alicia smirked. “Actually, you can’t.”
The blonde blinked at Alicia and frowned. This was obviously an inconvenience. An intrusion on what could possibly be an alluring life, pink eyes and all. For now, at least. The two girls stared at each other in silence. Alicia forced air into her lungs.
“I’m not buying shit.” The blonde retorted, growing more impatient.
Alicia bit her lip and then stared down at her fists. “I see you hang out with that one guy.”
“Okay.” The blonde shrugged in confusion.
“It looks like you two are a couple.”
The blonde started to push the door close. “I have company.”
Alicia pressed her hand against it. “No you don’t. He’s not here right now.” The words flew out of Alicia’s mouth before she could catch them.
“Okay, you need to leave…”
“And I know this,” Alicia still gritted her teeth, pushing all her weight against the door. The blonde was no match for her. “…because I know where he is right now.”
“I’ll call the cops!” The blonde insisted, yelling at Alicia’s feet. She loosened her grip on the door and then pushed her hand against Alicia’s chest. When Alicia resisted, the blonde took her palm and swung it across Alicia’s forehead. Alicia touched her forehead, stunned. She felt the tears bloat in her eyes and that pissed her off. She grabbed the blonde’s wrist.
“He’s screwing my boyfriend!” Alicia spat out. The words seemed to smack the blonde right in the face because she, too, started to cry.
“What?” Alicia thought that was what the blonde croaked. Alicia loosened her grip on her wrist, and their fingers dangled together—a weaving of defeat.
Alicia snatched her hand away, and took in a breath. “I just thought you should know.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

My Agent Wish List: Amy Tipton

Workout Song of the Day: "Pump It" by Black Eyed Peas

My very first entry in the Agent Wish List series is none other than Amy Tipton of Signature Literature Agency. Just look at her picture--isn't she a rock star? :)

Why I Heart Her: She answered my query in like a week--record timing, especially considering I still haven't heard from a few other agents I queried WAAAY back in October. Also, she's the one who suggested that I alter my novel to make it YA. Needless to say, I'm addicted now. If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have been introduced to Elizabeth Scott, Amy Reed, and Davida Willis Hurwin. You rock, Amy!

Why You'll Heart Her: Not only is she speedy, but she is so dedicated to her clients that she returned to work right after having a stroke. If that's not reliable, I don't know what is.

Who She Represents: Some of Amy's most prominent clients include Amy Reed, who has just published her first YA novel, Beautiful (be on the lookout for my review), Courtney Summers, whose second YA novel, Some Girls Are will actually be released tomorrow, and Kirstin Cronn-Mills who wrote the YA novel, The Sky Always Hears Me: And the Hills Don't Mind.

What She's Looking For: "Dirty" and "heartbreaking" women's fiction; boy MG; edgy and reality-based YA; women's studies and fashion/beauty.

Notable Net Nuggets: Here are links to some of her interviews and other info:

How to Submit to Her: Amy is currently accepting submissions again! To submit to her, send your query and the first 5 pages of your manuscript (pasted in the body of your email) to amy@signaturelit.com
And there you have it! Good luck--I know I'll be knocking on her door shortly. :)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

London's Calling!

Workout Song of the Day: "Uprising" by Muse

Hello peeps! I've missed you all SOO much. It's funny how accustomed you get to posting on your own blog. I've been away from it for weeks and I already feel like a negligent mama. Aside from all the hubbub that was Christmas and New Years (I love you family, but I think I've seen WAY too much of you over the past few days), I am happy to announce--drum roll please--I am currently in England for short-term study abroad. As you may note from my mini bio, I am currently back in school to receive my MFA in creative writing. As part of my program, I have to complete a 10 day residency at Wroxton College--just outside of London. I've never left the country before, so needless to say I'm a tad excited. However, I would be pleased if I never had to step foot in an airport again.

My Internet connection sucks here, and they have me actually working my butt off in all things writing, but I still want to start my new weekly format on Monday. I may not be able to post everyday, but I at least want to start my info on agents tomorrow.

Well, I'm off now to start working on a paper. BTW, anyone have any cool New Year's resolutions they'd like to share? I'm all about finishing my book and nabbing an agent. I would also add getting in shape, but that's a given--and I don't like setting myself up for failure. :)